My wise nana always said things rarely turn out the way you think they will, but they do happen for a reason. I had always envisioned a career as a journalist, but life had other plans. Right after my college graduation, our family had an emergency while my apparel sales rep dad was at a trade show in Atlanta. When no one from his companies could cover for him so he could attend to the emergency, Dad asked me to help. Despite having absolutely no background or interest in his business, this was my dad, so of course, I said yes. After giving me a half-hour crash course in how to sell ladies’ apparel, Dad left me alone to muddle through running the trade show. When he returned three days later, he was taken aback at how many orders I’d written. To my utter astonishment, he offered me a job as a sub-rep. Graduate school didn’t appeal to me and the opportunities for women in journalism at the time were few and far between. So, I accepted Dad’s offer, and the adventure of a lifetime began.
Fate brought me to the rag biz because I was destined to write about it. Like the protagonist in my Holly Swimsuit Mystery series, I am a ladies’ swimwear sales and merchandising exec. From the beginning of my career, I have kept a daily journal that chronicles the quirky, interesting, and often challenging people I’ve encountered as well as the crazy situations I’ve gotten myself into and out of. The journal entries are the foundation of all my writing. As a female who has succeeded in a historically male-dominated industry, it was important to me to write about the apparel business from a woman’s point of view. All of my characters are based on real people, and the central characters are all strong, successful women who have beaten the odds. Holly Schlivnik, the main character in the series, is based on me with some poetic license taken, of course. The stories all take place in the fast-paced, at times cutthroat Los Angeles ladies' swimwear industry.
The most critically important skill a sales exec must have to succeed is to be a good storyteller. Fortunately, I’ve been telling stories since I learned how to talk. Since I’d never written a novel before, the only thing I knew to do was to apply the same story-telling skills I’d successfully used hawking bikinis to writing a tale.
One thing I’d been told over and over as a sales exec was to know your product inside out. I heard the same thing when I started writing cozy mysteries: write what you know. If you don’t know it, either do the research and learn it or don’t dare to write it. Whether you’re an author or a sales exec, you’re selling yourself, and readers, like buyers, can sniff out a phony in a heartbeat, and then you and your story are toast. So, where did my story ideas come from? I paid attention to the mantra. Write what you know. With a dollop of imagination, a pinch of angst, and a decades-long career chocked to the gills with juicy characters, I had more stories in my daily journal than time to write them.
I came to write in the cozy mystery genre because I love solving puzzles. My parents would certainly confirm I have always asked a lot of questions, and I am naturally curious (some narrow-minded people say I am nosy…go figure…LOL). So, writing mysteries was the natural next step for me to take. Who could push a sales exec to dream of murder and mayhem? Who else but a buyer? After completing a rather challenging conversation with an important, but difficult customer, I silently wished her a slow and painful death as I imagined how good it would feel with my hands around her scrawny neck, squeezing the life out of her. While the notion of knocking off annoying customers was wildly appealing, a horizontally striped prison uniform would make my petite body look like it was the product of a barbershop pole and a fire hydrant having a child. The viable alternative? Writing humorous murder mysteries set in the Los Angeles garment center. Brilliant and cathartic! In one fell swoop, eliminate a pain-in-the patootie buyer, avoid life in prison, and still get the order. It doesn’t get any better than that.
My life has come full-circle by leveraging a sales career into a writing gig. My advice to anyone planning a second act? Trust your gut, believe in yourself, never stop saying what if, don’t let anyone crush your dream, and always remember that regret is the worst human emotion as it is the one we can usually do little or nothing about.
Named Best US Author of the Year by N. N. Lights Book Heaven, award-winning cozy mystery author Susie Black was born in the Big Apple but now calls sunny Southern California home. A voracious reader, she’s also an avid stamp collector, Spanish speaker, and dedicated daily walker. Susie lives with a highly intelligent man and has one incredibly brainy but smart-aleck adult son who inexplicably blames his sarcasm on an inherited genetic defect.